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Toy trains fascinate young, old alike
Miniature hobbyists to host weekend show at fairgrounds
train display
Oscar Huerta, along with his wife Dolores, has transformed half of his Hughson garage into an H-O scale layout of a village with miniature trains running on a track. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER / The Courier

Oscar Huerta grew up in his native El Salvador and remembers seeing a miniature train setup in the window of a local lumber yard each Christmas. A child of about 10 years old from a poor family, he’d press his face against the window only dreaming of owning such a display.

Those dreams have long since been realized – he came to America in 1947 – with half of his Hughson garage dominated by an ‘H-O’ scale layout of a village with miniature trains running on a track.

This weekend Huerta, his wife Dolores and other members of the San Joaquin Valley Division of the Toy Train Operating Society will be sharing their love of the hobby at the 33rd annual Toy Train Show at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds (900 N. Broadway Ave., Turlock). The show runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults or $9 for a family. Children under 12 admitted free with an adult ticket.

The show typically draws over 2,000 people who either just want to marvel at the miniatures or buy pieces for their own collection. The Huertas say the holiday show is also a great place to learn about a piece of American history as toy trains have been around for over a century.

“Before it was a swap meet type thing,” said Dolores, secretary of the club.

Holiday shoppers and hobbyists will find all gauges of model trains and train related items for sale in a large trading hall. Operating model train layouts, railroad movies, hourly raffles and door prizes round out the offering.

The Huertas joined the club before moving to Hughson, when they lived in Jamestown. Both enjoyed creating the miniature town housed on a large raised plywood stage raised above the garage floor. A pop-up hole in the center allows Oscar to tinker with trains and buildings in the middle of the layout. Both operate the electric train and are constantly changing the town scene by adding and rearranging buildings, draping scenic backdrop panels and planning their next addition. They hope to add a mountain to the setup and maybe a lake.

“There’s no stoppage to the imagination,” said Oscar, grinning ear to ear like a kid in a candy shop.

The hobby can be a “headache” when electrical issues arise, joked Huerta, who also called the hobby “lots of fun.” He estimates spending 10 hours a week playing with the setup “instead of watching TV.”

The Huertas have no idea what has been spent on the train layout so far. Parts can range from $5 to $20 for used rail cars to $40 for new cars. Dolores said H-O scale is the most popular because it’s less costly than the ‘O’ scale. A person can start out with a $125 investment and grow it from there.

Dolores once told Oscar not to buy any more trains and town buildings – that was before they went on a night tour of ‘O’ gauge trains in Sacramento where they saw entire bedrooms swallowed up by the hobby. Her perspective changed.

“I said (to Oscar), ‘You know what, your collection isn’t bad at all. I’m not complaining,” she said.

Those who attend this weekend’s show will be treated to three large and elaborate ‘O’ gauge setups that measure approximately 30 feet by 50 feet.

Club members set up and maintain the train layout in the fairgrounds’ horticultural exhibit area.

Members take excursions twice a year to such places as the California State Train Museum in Old Town Sacramento, Railtown in Jamestown and the Sugar Pine Railroad.

“We have a lot of fun. Everybody is really nice,” Dolores said.

For more information on the club or show contact Robert Silva at 838-2703.